In shock news, Europe’s largest poker room, King’s Casino in Rozvadov, has declared that all Italian players will not be welcomed at its casino due to the possibility of transmitting the COVID-19 – or Coronavirus – infection.
While just under 100,000 cases have been reported worldwide, with an estimated death rate of 3.4% being declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO), King’s Casino regularly organizes events for players who travel from a specific country – such as Italy – to play in Rozvadov. Barely anyone lives in Rozvadov to play poker, with the King’s resort almost exclusively welcoming travelling players, so the exclusion point may be a valid one, but Italian only?
The King’s Casino statement in full is unequivocal in its specificity of the request:
“King’s Resort communicates with regret to its customers that, given the evolution of the epidemic phenomenon coronavirus that for a few hours has been interested in the Czech Republic (with two [cases] contracted in Prague after visiting Italy), in order to safeguard the health of our international guests and prevent the spread of the Covid-19, we have chosen to completely limit access in all areas of the casino, not even accepting hotel reservations, to all residents and coming from Italy indefinitely, canceling from now all the events of March and April 2020 that target mainly target the audience mentioned above.
Given the constant evolution of the situation, we will follow any new developments, in the hope of removing this limitation to an audience to whom we are very fond of, giving timely communication via our channels as soon as possible.
We inform you that, unless new provisions, the Poker Room events calendar remains unchanged from May 1, 2020 onwards.”
With events that were planned for March and April for Italian players cancelled, the obvious question is whether this would happen if any other country was having the issues with COVID-19 that Italy has. Are players from China also banned? Will other countries suffer the same expulsions that Italy have been hit by in terms of poker players travelling to Rozvadov?
These questions have not been answered by King’s statement or in other communication with fans to date. This decision comes on the back of the first diagnosed Coronavirus cases in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic.
While Prague is 162 km from the poker paradise, surely the point is that in major cities, and areas where people from all countries and cultures travel to meet together – the essence of live tournament poker above micro stakes level – what importance does one’s nationality really have? Couldn’t there be a German player infected with the virus living in Italy as likely an Italian player might be infected and living in Prague?
With the World Series of Poker declaring that there will currently be no changes to the 2020 schedule, which to date includes 104 events – albeit with over a dozen of these being online events – the potential impact of the COVID-19 virus on poker is not to be underestimated. But, in the same breath, it is not to be overexaggerated or used as prejudice either.
As it stands, the scheduled events for March and April that were being laid on with Italian players in mind have been cancelled, but while events are said to be set to continue as planned after May 1st, surely that would change if another country suffered the same outbreak that has occurred in Italy. With 3,089 Coronavirus cases as of March 3rd in Italy and 107 deaths being reported at the time of going to press, the situation is no doubt serious in Italy.
As far as preventing those coming from Italy to play goes, that is one decision to make. But banning Italian nationals who have not been in Italy but who might want to play at King’s could be a precedent that is either difficult to justify or hard to bend when other countries are afflicted in the same way Italy has been which, at least currently, seems possible if not likely.
With February’s Triton Super High Roller Series in Jeju, South Korea having been cancelled and the forthcoming Malta Poker Championship also biting the bullet and being cancelled – despite being proposed to have taken place in late May, after the supposed resumption of normal service at Kings – poker needs to decide where it stands when it comes to the COVID-19 virus.
In this developing story, how tournament organisers react in the build-up from Spring to Summer may be the best indication of whether the 2020 World Series of Poker goes ahead as planned or whether it too faces an uncertain future.